Distinguished Researcher

by Kathryn Warden

Engineering professor Robert Besant, whose energy conservation work has had a huge impact on housing in Canada, was presented with the U of S Distinguished Researcher Award at Spring Convocation. The award, which carries a $1,000 prize, is presented semi-annually to a U of S faculty member who has made a major contribution to knowledge or artistic creativity.

"Prof. Besant has been an outstanding researcher throughout his almost 40-year career," said Michael Corcoran, U of S Vice-President Research. "His research has had a tremendous impact on the energy efficiency of housing across Canada and has spawned a manufacturing industry in Saskatchewan. He's also had a significant influence on engineering and building standards worldwide."

Besant, who joined the mechanical engineering department in 1960, was a key member of the research group that in 1977 developed the first cost-effective, energy-efficient house in North America. The federal government's R2000 home energy-efficiency program, launched in 1982, was based on Besant's design and construction concepts. That program has resulted in fundamental changes in the way houses are designed and built in Canada and many other countries.

His research on heat transfer in buildings has led to computer design codes used by the heating and ventilating industry. In 1976, his lab developed the first heat-recovery ventilator (also called an air-to-air exchanger) for energy-efficient home ventilation. The device, which recovers the energy from stale exhaust air and uses it to pre-heat the fresh air coming in to the house, cuts heat loss up to 70 per cent. This work led to the establishment of two Saskatchewan companies which together employ nearly 200 people.

Besant is currently working on improving ventilation and energy efficiency in commercial buildings and designing heat exchangers for large refrigeration facilities to minimize frost build-up. He is also working with the potash industry to find ways of reducing clumping when potash is stored in high-humidity climates - a problem which costs the industry millions annually.

Other honors he has received include:

* Canadian Housing Design Council's Award of Merit (1982)

* "Engineer of the Year" by the Saskatoon Engineering Society (1991)

* "Solar Person of the Year" (1992) by the Solar Energy Society of Canada for his contributions to passive solar design and energy efficient design

* Founding member of the board of directors of the Saskatchewan Energy Conservation and Development Authority which was responsible for recommending energy supply options for the province (1993)

* Fellow of ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers) in 1993

As well, his expertise has been sought as a member of federal granting agency committees, technical societies and government agencies including NSERC (Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada), Canada Mortgage and Housing Commission, Canadian Government Standards Board, and the Canadian Standards Association.

Besant holds a Bachelor of Science (1957) from the University of Manitoba and a Master of Science in Engineering from Princeton University (1959). He has published more than 70 refereed journal papers, more than 140 conference papers, and many technical reports. In addition, he has given many seminar presentations and invited talks. His research has attracted substantial financial support and he is the co-author of two patents.

During the 11 years that he served as head of mechanical engineering, he helped boost the number of graduate students in the department from nine to 85. More than 50 graduate students have completed degrees under his supervision. He involves his students in all aspects of research, including publication of results.